Varied Sensibilities in Software Preservation: Demonstrating a Comparative Approach

Publication Date


Document Type


Publication Title

Annual Meeting of the Society for Social Studies of Science (4S)

Conference Location

Boston, MA


Working within the conference theme of “STS (In)Sensibilities”, this paper outlines the specific affordances of varied forms of software preservation, arguing that different preservation practices make different material dimensions of historical technologies knowable. How do techniques like disk imaging and emulation make the material construction of technological phenomena sensible differently than hardware preservation or original software editions? This paper uses the 1986 Electronic Arts self-help program Timothy Leary’s Mind Mirror as a case study in comparison between forms of knowledge sensible using emulated and original software copies. Treating historical knowledge as socially constructed throughout the preservation and research processes, I will take a bibliographic approach to surveying extant archival copies of Mind Mirror, producing a taxonomy of their relative affordances. The study locates Mind Mirror through each phase of its path from developer manuscripts to institutional, independent, and personal preservation settings, identifying the physical traits of each preserved artifact and linking them with related program behaviors. Phenomena sensible when using original hardware and software copies, such as the Commodore 64 edition’s mechanical copy-protection technique, are nearly undetectable using disk imaging and emulation. Disk-imaged editions, conversely, are used to demonstrate the unique interpretation practices enabled when text-mining facsimiles of an original disk. In conclusion, the paper compares forms of knowledge constructed through each variation of the Mind Mirror software, linking varied software preservation practices with overlapping yet distinctive selections of sensible phenomena. After reviewing my findings, I conclude that the variation in identified sensibilities supports a pluralistic approach to preservation practices.